Light Cinnamon -- the beans are very light in color and dry with no coffee oils visible on the surface. The coffee usually has little body and there are noticeable sour notes. There's also a baked or bready taste to the coffee.
French, Espresso, Turkish or Dark -- the beans are dark brown in color and they are somewhat shiny with surface oil. They have burnt undertones and their acidity is quite diminished. This is the most popular roast for espresso.
Italian, Dark French or Heavy -- the beans are a very dark brown color and the surface is very shiny or oily. There's a stronger burnt flavor to the bean and the acidity is almost gone.
Get the Most from your Roast
Cinnamon -- the beans are still light brown and dry with no coffee oils visible. The hints of toasted grain remain and there are distinct sour, acidic notes.
New England or Half City -- the beans are a little darker than the cinnamon. The taste is still sour but not bready. This style is not as frequently used as other roast styles, but is common in the eastern U.S..
American or Light -- the beans are medium light brown in color. This is the roast used mainly in the eastern U.S. and is the roast style most often used for cupping or professional coffee tasting.
Light French, Viennese, Light Espresso or Continental -- the beans are a dark brown color and are shiny with light surface oil. There's less acidity in this roast and the taste is more bittersweet. There are caramel-like flavors with burnt undertones. This roast is often used for espresso.
Medium or City -- the beans are a medium brown color. This roast style is most common in the western U.S. and is the recommended degree of roast for tasting the different origin flavors in a coffee.
Full City -- the beans are medium dark brown in color and show some coffee oils on the surface. This is also a good roast for tasting origin characteristics of the coffee. The taste is slightly bittersweet with caramel and/or chocolate undertones.
Spanish, Neapolitian -- this is the darkest roast of all. The beans are nearly black and very shiny. Burnt undertones dominate and the flavor has been reduced to a few weak, sweet notes. The taste can sometimes be flat, and the body of the coffee thin.
Dark roast coffees have slightly less caffeine and are less acidic than lighter roast coffees. In dark roasts, the oils within the beans have been driven to the surface making the beans appear quite shiny. Some of the more subtle, complex flavors of lighter roast coffees are significantly reduced and/or destroyed with dark roasts. These flavors are replaced by more pungent, bittersweet sometimes tangy, dark roasted flavors that include chocolate and caramel notes.
Most roasters have specialized names for their favored roasts and there is very little industry standardization. This can cause some confusion when you’re buying, but in general, roasts fall into one of four color categories — light, medium, medium-dark and dark.
Many consumers assume that the strong, rich flavor of darker roasts indicates a higher level of caffeine, but the truth is that light roasts actually have a slightly higher concentration.
Light roast coffees are of course light brown in color and the beans' surface is dry. Light roasts often preserve a coffee's origin or flavor characteristics specific to that coffee's growing region. Light roast coffees tend to emphasize the more subtle, complex flavors of a coffee, often floral and citrusy or fruity notes that denote a high acidity. These roasts are light-bodied, somewhat sour, and are characterized as "snappy."
Medium roast coffees are a dark brown color and may have some oily spots on the surface of the beans. The acidity factor, or sour-citrusy flavors are decreased in this roast and the more caramel-like, spicy and or nutty notes are accentuated. Most coffees reach their peak of flavor and complexity with this roast, and it is probably the most common roast used by today's roasters.